Proprietary standards (was Single Sourcing HTML Files)

Subject: Proprietary standards (was Single Sourcing HTML Files)
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 1996 11:16:00 EST

At 11:56 AM 8/19/96 -0400, you wrote:

>I've done this <use FrameMaker>, and would not recommend it. Some of this
may be my
>personal bias or even my personality, but I do not like working with
>proprietary formats. I feel like I'm fumbling around in the dark when
>I'm forced to work with the code in a document file that I can't even
>LOOK at. I did end up converting a number of files using WebMaker, but
>if I had it to do again, I'd start with ASCII text. It seemed like it
>would save me time, but I really don't think it did. (Parenthetically,
>it was a simple field description guide, one of the few cases in which I
>think the structure of the document needs very little retooling in the
>paper-to-hypertext transition.)

<snip, snip>

>I would also argue that using a public standard is almost always
>preferable to using a proprietary format. Not only do the proprietary
>formats bind you to the software manufacturer that owns them, but
>whatever conversion tool you decide to use is probably going to end up
>making a lot of decisions for you.

Valid commentary, and to some extent I agree with you. But I think you'd
find that such a reluctance to use proprietary formats is dependent on many
factors, among which are the stability of the format, the ease with which
you can find manipulators in that format, and the cost of both potential for
mistake and the time lost training new people if you can't find anyone
already trained.

In other words, Tex, TROFF or SGML are wonderful if you, the organization,
your bosses, and the local techie gods are all willing to put up with the
"bus factor," which is "What happens to our documentation if you get hit by
a bus?" (Also known as the "beer truck factor," the "Mack truck factor," the
"TWA factor," and so on.)

Commercial houses can't generally take that risk. Few outside of academia
can run Tex or TROFF. And SGML needs to be available in a tool, rather than
as a concept. Consequently a company will usually opt for a well-known,
stable tool from a recognized source in preference to something that will
only save time in highly skilled hands. All too often those hands can't be
had for love, money or spa memberships. Organizations can't let themselves
be put in a box like that. And an organization that lets itself be locked
into such a box inadvertently deserves what it gets.

>Frankly, SGML is a little difficult to get going with, so that's not
>necessarily the answer; but I would highly recommend going with
>something like WordPerfect or even LaTeX or TROFF or something, then
>writing your own conversion macros.

Again, that sort of thing is a techno-solution, rather than a
human-relations one. Such fixes need updating and shepherding, because
there's never enough time to smooth them out entirely. That puts the entire
project at the mercy of the techno-writer and, by extension, at the mercy of
recruiters. You can find a FrameMaker drone anywhere, and you can generally
find a good Frame person if you look for a bit. But try finding someone who
knows Tex and can write conversion macros.

>And if you disagree with me, you're just a stupid little Word Weenie,
>and you're also puerile and stupid and also you probably smell gross.

Well, you're ugly, you type like a girl and your Mama dresses you funny.

Tim Altom
Vice President, Simply Written, Inc.
317.899.5882 (voice) 317.899.5987 (fax)
FrameMaker support ForeHelp support

Makers of DuoFrame, giving you online help and paper
documentation from a single parent FrameMaker document.

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